The Command & Conquer franchise has had its ups and downs since the original real-time strategy was first released on PC in 1995.
Classic C&C was state-of-the-art and action-packed. Its success would bring about several sequels as well as spin-off games. Just prior to the 2007 debut of Command and Conquer 3, Electronic Arts (EA) bundled all of the legacy C&C titles onto a compilation DVD called Command & Conquer: The First Decade.
From the very beginning we learn that an alien meteorite strikes the Tiber River and emerald crystals grow from the source of the impact. These crystals are abundant in special resources and spread rapidly across the world. This natural phenomenon coined by scientists as 'tiberium' becomes the focal point for a war that is about to rage across the globe.
Conflict arises when two powerful factions oppose each other in terms of ideology. You are immediately confronted with a binary choice. Do you join the Global Defence Initiative (funded by the United Nations as a peacekeeping force for the Western world) or the Brotherhood of Nod (a terrorist cell of fanatics devoted to their charismatic leader Kane)?
As a commander for GDI or Nod gameplay is the same. You build a base so that you can train infantry, rally tanks and obliterate the enemy. Power levels are also very important so ensure that you have plenty of power plants. There is nothing more embarrassing than having the perfect line advanced guard towers or obelisks of light (laser towers) only to have them rendered useless because there is insufficient energy to run them.
Late-game technology allows you to use experimental vehicles and super weapons. GDI get to deploy their mammoth tanks which boasts lots of armour and can pound the ground and the air (easily the most versatile and deadly unit for head-to-head combat in the game). To knock out a well-defended position or to hammer the last nail in the enemy's coffin, GDI can target a location on the map to fire their ion cannon, which is a satellite in geo-stationary orbit with a large laser beam. Nod's best friend for surprise attacks is their coveted stealth tank. The stealth tank only reveals its shimmering cloak while it fires it rocket barrage or is detected. Very sneaky. When the going gets tough, the temple of Nod can launch a nuclear warhead.
The campaign is as fun as the multiplayer options. Included in The First Decade is the expansion Covert Operations, which includes bonus singleplayer missions.
Westwood Studios, who made the original C&C (and were later bought out by EA) repackaged their blockbuster hit a year later. Red Alert is a whacky parallel reality where Einstein invented the chronosphere, a time machine that allowed for the assassination of Hitler. As a consequence, Germany sided with the allies and the Soviet Union with Stalin at the helm was the new threat.
As with C&C, Red Alert is all about base building and conquering the enemy. The live-action cutscenes throughout the campaign garner criticism for being too cheesy but I find those scenes are rewarding and entertaining.
Instead of tiberium, you harvest ore and diamonds. Unit choice is also what you would expect from a WWII themed title: light, medium and heavy tanks, Humvees, rifleman, rocket soldiers, grenadiers and flamethrower infantry. There are also aircraft to rule the air and naval forces from submarines to cruisers to dominate the sea.
Red Alert is not a blatant copy of C&C as it has its own style and story. It merely adopts a formula that works. Everybody loves to use the commando unit Tanya on the battlefield. She can take on a platoon of soldiers with a pair of pistols and she can also plant C4 explosives on buildings and detonate them with just a click of a button. Boom baby.
C&C: Tiberian Sun(1999)
Following on from the GDI perspective of the C&C campaign, 30 years have passed since they defeated Nod. The terrorist threat re-emerges in this science fiction epic with mechanised infantry, exotic technology and a landscape that has evolved due to the spread of tiberium.
Kane, believed to have died in his temple at Sarajevo, steps out of the shadows and declares to GDI and the world that he is back.
Once again you can choose to fight as the Brotherhood of Nod or follow Commander McNeil's exploits as GDI deal with the recurring terrorist threat. This sequel brings new units to the table such as cyborgs, hovercrafts and an awesome futuristic feel to the C&C universe. The in-game movies are slick and the story overall is satisfying.
Tiberian Sun features overhauled graphics (isometric view and sprite rendering) and a wonderful soundtrack courtesy of Frank Klepacki.
The expansion, Firestorm, sees GDI and Nod form an uneasy alliance as they confront Nod's rogue cyborg AI Cabal.
A worthy sequel, Red Alert 2 features a new world order where the allies won the previous war. The Soviet Union has a new leader, Premier Romanov. Just when there seems to be stability and peace worldwide, Romanov decides to invade America. The introduction is memorable: the skies are filled with Kirov airships and paratroopers descend on the United States.
Defend the homeland as the Allies or lead the invasion as Russia. This game brings the visuals up to date and showcases a variety of bizarre units from crazy Ivan, a suicide bomber, to the Chrono Legionnaire, a soldier who literally erases buildings and soldiers from time.
The sequel Yuri's Revenge introduces a whole new level of weird when Russia's top psychic agent goes rogue. There's mind control and flying saucers.
EA actually explored the C&C universe as a first-person shooter. And for its time it was amazing. Sadly it has not aged well. You play as the GDI commando Nick Havoc and slaughter Nod soldiers with a vast arsenal of silenced pistols, machineguns and high-tech weapons such as portable ion cannons and tiberium flechette rifles. There are driveable vehicles from Humvees to mammoth tanks and you can demolish enemy bases.
Multiplayer is a dream. Imagine a classic C&C match only you play as the soldiers on the battlefield. Lead the charge by bombarding structures with artillery or sneak into an enemy power plant to blast the joint with C4.
Generals is the third spin-off of the C&C universe, which favours realism over bizarre technologies and storylines. This is modern warfare where you can choose from three unique superpowers. China mass produce vehicles and rally hordes of conscripts to aid their cause. United States rely on quality troops and reliable aircraft and tanks to get the job done. The Global Liberation Army has no need for electricity as they use tunnels and guerrilla tactics to fight an unconventional war.
The expansion, Zero Hour, adds new maps, new missions and new toys to play with such as an ECM tank (China), spectre gunship (US) and the battlebus (GLA).
Unlock general abilities to coordinate carpet bomb strikes and special buffs to your troops.
BeyondThe First Decade
We can call forget Command & Conquer 4 ever happened and hope that the future of the franchise returns to its roots. Red Alert 3 was decent but not really as memorable as its predecessors.
As of writing this EA are currently working on a remake of a free-to-play version of C&C Generals. See what all the fuss is about and check out C&C: The First Decade. Alternatively, purchase The Ultimate Collection which has every current C&C game and has been updated for Windows 7 and Vista.